Music

I think music has gradually become more and more important to me over the course of my life. The longest-running and most important music for me is the bells. I was taught English change-ringing by my mother when I was a young boy, in Fawley, Hampshire. I rang at Iffley village in Oxfordshire when I lived there; more recently I was vice-captain of the band in St Andrews, Scotland, and did a lot of teaching there as well.

A meeting of the Northern District of the Irish Association of Change Ringers, Ballylesson, County Down. I’m on the far side of the room, wearing a stripey shirt and ringing the treble; my mother is next to the camera, wearing a blue blouse and a sparkly scarf, and ringing the five. You can hear me speak at the very beginning of the video, giving the other ringers the instruction to start: “…she’s gone…”

When I was at university, I came across the harp, and archaeology, and traditional music. These in combination have guided my musicking since then. Archaeology of music leads on to organology, (for example, I joined the Galpin Society); archaeology and reconstructionism saw me working with early-medieval lyres and other strange ancient things.

Music archaeology also informed my long involvement with trying to reconstruct medieval Gaelic harp music. In 2006-7 I commissioned a detailed “archaeological” reproduction of the 14th century Scottish Queen Mary clarsach preserved in the National Museum of Scotland, which I used to explore possible re-imaginings of medieval West Highland music, including an exploration of the pibroch or ceòl mór repertory of the bagpipes.

With Gaelic singer Gillebrìde MacMillan, performing for the chiefs of Clan Donald at Armadale, Isle of Skye.

Studying music such as pibroch, and Ossianic ballads, led me to work more with old oral tradition music. I was inspired by the Scandinavian bowed-lyre or Jouhikko traditions. I also got a fiddle and learned the rudiments of playing. I was involved with the traditional music scene at the Wighton Centre in Dundee.

I also have dabbled in experimental electronic music composition. I have long been curious about the pure impersonal digital world, and how it contrasts with the messy reality of living in the physical and biological mess of life on Earth.

Now I am living in Armagh and working on the old Irish harp music. I am inspired by the landscapes and communities all around. This is the area where the last generations of old harp tradition-bearers were: Patrick Quin, William Carr, Arthur O’Neill. I like to go to their places, to think about their worlds.